Think of SEO as a mythical beast. Except, one that does actually exist. It’s a phenomenon. A force of nature. Like gravity, or Nicolas Cage. Understanding what it is and how it works is up there with the many great mysteries of the universe. Understanding why you should be using it though is fairly obvious, and with this short introduction to the concept, you may well be able to corner the horse before you saddle it up and start to ride.
SEO was invented in 1854 by a band of frontiersmen, as they settled in what would soon become the state of Indiana, in the Great Lakes region of the central United States of America. Whilst that previous statement may not be correct, the truth is that the etiology of the concept itself can only be traced as far back as search engines have existed.
SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, and has long been used as an equivocal means of getting to the top of results pages for major search engines such as internet giants Google, internet not-so-giants Yahoo! and (God help us all), Bing.
Whilst Search Engines are owned by some of the smartest organisations in the world, they still need help seeing through the fog of the billion plus websites in order to rank them in the right order, and that’s where SEO techniques come in, offering solace to those in dire need of a results page pick-me-up.
SEO can be one of the most complex things in the world, but the core concept is fairly basic and therein lies the foundation from which to build knowledge and success stories.
Think of the internet as a map of the world, with each website being a single city, town or village. Without anybody navigating the map or moving place to place, we wouldn’t know that half of these places exist. This is where search engines put into place their own little scouts, seeking out existing locations, as well as new locations that are just being settled, so that we can build a comprehensive index of places in the world that anybody can use. This index can then be used to find potential travel spots, as well as information about that location, and will automatically update itself to find the location most relevant to my needs based on a specific keyword.
Whilst search engines will do the legwork to crawl your website and decipher where it belongs, it’s up to you to ensure that you are doing everything you can to not only rank as highly as you can, but also that you’re creating relevant content to create a positive user experience when people get there. Believe it or not, SEO bots are likely to be able to tell if your website has a horrific UX, and will make sure that your site ranks lower in accordance with just how difficult you make life for visitors.
It’s also important to bear in mind that it’s impossible to know exactly when search engines are likely to crawl your website, and so it’s logical to be as white hat as possible at all times. When it comes to SEO, there is no such thing as cheating the system, only playing the game.
SEO isn’t just about making your website more visible, it’s also about making your website easier to understand for both users and search engine robots, whose job it is to inform potential users of what to expect before they click through. Without SEO, a website can be completely invisible to search engines, and considering that well over 65% of website traffic comes from organic search rather than direct traffic, you can put money on the fact that not ranking, or barely ranking, for an industry related keyword may well mean impending doom.
Whilst there are limits to what search engine robots can understand (they can’t gauge content quality, short of black hat SEO practices such as keyword stuffing, primarily relevance and importance), making sure that you’re marketing your site effectively through SEO best practice is only going to drive more traffic to your website, giving search engines a deeper insight into how your users react with your website and therefore helping them to identify exactly how relevant your content is for specific search terms.
The main thing to consider when tackling SEO is that your primary goal is going to visibility, and it’s important to bear in mind how your website is going to look when it’s set amongst a search engine results page. Editing your meta content, page titles and descriptions is going to give you additional keyword space, but is also going to give you the opportunity to represent your website and speak to potential users before they’ve even landed on your site, so make the most of the space.
There are plenty of small tasks that you can carry out to help boost your profile even further, like adding anchor text to links, giving all of your images alt text, and making sure that your meta titles and descriptions aren’t too long or short, but these are just drops in an ocean when it comes to continually improving your website profile. SEO is a process, not a fix. Nurture your relationship with your website by devoting a steady flow of attention to optimising your site, and you could (hopefully) wind up at the top of the pile.